There could be up to 300,000 meteorites locked in Antarctica’s frozen fields, researchers from a Belgian-Dutch scientific team have suggested.
Using artificial intelligence the experts have devised a world-first “treasure map”, which narrows down the location of the space rocks.
Steven Goderis, Professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and co-author of the study said the meteorites hold “enormous scientific potential”.
“Although more than 45,000 meteorites have been collected in Antarctica so far, the potential for future missions to find meteorites is still largely unexploited,” he said.
“According to our calculations, more than 300,000 meteorites are still present on the surface of the ice sheet, with enormous scientific potential.”
Researchers said the algorithm that helped find the meteorite-rich areas is up to 80 percent accurate.
Veronica Tollenaar, PhD candidate at Université libre de Bruxelles and lead author of the study, said it represents “a new era for Antarctic meteorite missions.”
Until now, only parts of the Antarctic blue ice regions have been searched for meteorites, with varying degrees of success.
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“We found several never-visited meteorite-rich areas relatively close to research stations,” she explained.
“Through our analyzes, we learned that satellite observations of temperature, ice flow rate, surface area and geometry are good predictors of the location of meteorite-rich areas.”
Nearly two-thirds of all meteorites found on Earth have been collected from Antarctica.
The continent’s cold and dry conditions help to preserve the space rocks, which are invaluable to scientists’ understanding of the universe.